J Mystery

THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY by Siobhan Dowd

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When Ted’s aunt Gloria and cousin Salim come to visit, he is forced into one of the social situations that he finds extremely uncomfortable.  Ted is bad at making what his parents consider “normal” conversation.  What he really enjoys talking about is the weather, a fascination of his which he can discuss in much detail.  But Ted is determined to be a good host, and he and his older sister Kat take Salim out with them to show him around London.  While waiting in line to go up on the London Eye, a stranger offers them a spare ticket, and Salim is able to skip the queue and take his ride on the big wheel immediately.  But when the ride is over, Salim is not in the carriage.  He has somehow disappeared into thin air.  While trying to dodge the hysterics of Aunt Gloria and the rest of the family who are worried about Salim, Ted decides to pursue an investigation of his own that will hopefully lead him to his missing cousin.

This is a largely intellectual mystery story; it lacks a villain and has little action.  Ted. who has Asperger’s syndrome, is an endearing detective who tries to follow the clues methodologically, while navigating the emotional upheaval of his family.  A fun read and a thought-provoking mystery!   Adults and teens who liked The London Eye Mystery might also like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.

POWERLESS by Matthew Cody

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When Daniel and his family move to a new town to take care of his aging grandmother, Daniel immediately notices something odd about the kids of Noble’s Green.  At first he excuses the strange things he sees as tricks of his mind.  Mollie couldn’t possibly move as fast as he thought she did.  Certainly the bully Clay couldn’t be strong enough to hurl him that far through the air.  But when Eric rescues him from a would-be-fatal fall and flies him up to their secret hide-out, Daniel has to face the truth.  The kids of Noble’s Green have superpowers.  Most of them choose to use their powers only for good and to hide their abilities from the adults.  But one thing is universally true: the powers disappear on your thirteenth birthday.  Your old talents vanish, and with them your memories of your childhood adventures and even of your friendships.  Some of the kids have accepted this change as destiny, and watched their older friends drift away from them, knowing it would one day be their turn.  But Mollie suspects that something else might be going on.  Unfortunately, any kid who tried to figure out the truth in the past lost their powers prematurely.  But Daniel has no superpowers, and his talent at detective work makes him the perfect man for the job.  It is all up to Daniel to discover who or what is stealing the superpowers of Noble’s Green, before the supers lose another friend.

I just picked this book up when I was browsing, and boy am I glad I did!  This is a great adventure mystery, built on themes of growing up and changing relationships that we can all relate to.  It will probably appeal most to upper elementary and middle schoolers.   A truly fun, imaginative read–I highly recommend it!

If you liked Powerless, you might like Sidekicks by Jack D. Ferraiolo.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman

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The man Jack had always completed his assignments thoroughly and efficiently.  His knife dispatched the man, the woman, and the little girl before even a scream could pass their lips.  So it comes as a great surprise to him when he discovers that the toddler has somehow escaped into the night.  The man Jack follows the little boy’s scent up the hill and into the graveyard, but there he loses the trail as a mysterious, black-velvet-clad man named Silas escorts him from the graveyard, persuading him that he never saw the child there in the first place.  The inhabitants of the graveyard, the ghosts of all of those laid to rest within its gates over the centuries, offer the child their protection.  The ghosts Master and Mistress Owens adopt the child, whom they name Nobody (Bod), and Silas, who is neither living nor dead and can therefore leave the graveyard to procure food for the child, agrees to be his guardian.  Bod is given the freedom of the graveyard, seeing as the dead see, moving through walls, fading into shadow, and exploring worlds on the border between life and death.  He grows up safe inside the graveyard, but outside its gates, the man Jack has not abandoned his search for child.

The Graveyard Book won the 2009 Newbery Medal, which is somewhat surprising given the book’s subject matter–the dark, fantastical world stands out from typical Newbery winners–but fully deserved.  Gaiman builds a vivid world in the graveyard and explores themes of life, death, family and friendship, love and loyalty, identity, and morality.  He weaves these themes into his brilliantly imagined storyline, which keeps readers engaged in characters and plot from beginning to end.  Fair warning: you will reach a point in the story where you will become unable to put this book down.  Plan your time accordingly.

I highly recommed this book for upper elementary, teen, and adult readers who can handle dark fantasy and murder mysteries. I also cannot recommend highly enough Neil Gaiman’s audio book performance of this book!  It is one of my top two favorite audiobooks of all time–an absolutely stunning performance.  It is great to listen to, whether you are experiencing the book for the first time or reading it again.  You should definitely check the audio book out!

THE CASE OF THE MISSING MARQUESS by Nancy Springer

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On her fourteenth birthday, Enola Holmes discovers that her eccentric mother has vanished. Even her older brother Sherlock cannot find the marquess. As her eldest brother, Mycroft, makes plans to send her away to boarding school, Enola discovers a series of clues that her mother left specifically for her, and she begins to realize that the mystery may not be quite what it seems.  Her investigation and her desire to avoid boarding school at all costs prompt Enola to flee from her brothers and seek refuge in the city of London.  With the help of her analytical mind and her gift for disguise–traits which she shares with her brother Sherlock–Enola is determined to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance and any other mysteries she stumbles across along the way.  And nothing–especially not her being a girl–will stand in her way.

Springer builds a vivid and detailed picture of life in Victorian London, the poverty of the East End, and the challenges of being a woman in the nineteenth century.  Add a brilliant, snarky narrator, hilarious disguises, codes to crack, clues to unravel, and the indomitable Sherlock Holmes as a rival and adversary and you have one of my favorite children’s mystery books!  The only down side to this wonderful mystery series is that its reading level is a bit more difficult than its interest level.  It is best for advanced upper elementary readers, (possibly also middle school readers) and will probably be of most interest to girls.  I highly recommend it!

Five books follow The Case of the Missing Marquess in the Enola Holmes series:
2. The Case of the Left-Handed Lady
3. The Case of the Bizarre Bouquet
4. The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan
5. The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline
6. The Case of the Gypsy Goodbye

 

THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick

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When Hugo’s father perished in a fire, Uncle Claude took Hugo into his apartment in the train station and taught him how to care for the clocks.  Now that Uncle Claude has disappeared, Hugo takes care of the clocks himself, hiding in the walls of the train station, stealing food when he can, and avoiding the Station Inspector.  As soon as the clocks have been tended to, Hugo turns back to the secret project that keeps him going: the automaton man at the writing desk that Hugo’s father had been repairing when he died.  Hugo is sure that if he can fix the automaton, the mechanical man will write a message from his father.  Using his father’s notebook as a guide, he steals toys from the station toy booth and uses their parts to replace the missing and broken pieces.  But one day, the toy maker catches him.  When he sees Hugo’s notebook, he seems horrified and confiscates it immediately.  Although Hugo follows him to his house, he cannot convince the toy maker to give it back.  But he does meet Isabelle, the toy maker’s goddaughter, who seems to have secrets of her own.  Together, she and Hugo try to get the notebook back and to decipher the automaton’s mysterious message.

This book has a very interesting premise that was inspired by a true story.  It is told in words and pictures, switching back and forth between pages of prose and full-page drawings.  As you discover later in the book, the format is very intentional for this particular story.  I found it a bit challenging to get into because the transition between words and pictures was somewhat jarring (very different from reading a graphic novel!).  But once I got into the rhythm, and deeper into the story, I was grateful for the story-telling images.  The book deserves its Caldecott Medal.

Side note: Martin Scorsese is directing a film adaptation, which will be released in November 2011, and which I am very excited about–not least of all because the toy maker will be played by Ben Kingsley!  I have very high hopes for this film, and you will definitely be hearing my opinions on it in November!

A MURDER FOR HER MAJESTY by Beth Hilgartner

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As the daughter of a nobleman, Alice Tuckfield probably shouldn’t have been climbing trees.  But when she sees her father murdered by his supposed friends, her hiding place in the tree saves her life.  After overhearing the murderers imply that their orders came from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Alice doesn’t know who she can trust.  She immediately sets off on her own in the hope of finding her father’s old friend Lady Jenny, who lives miles away in York.  When she finally reaches the city, exhausted and starving, Alice runs into some boys from the choir school—or rather they run into her, literally.  After sneaking her into their boarding house and getting her some food, the boys decide that it would be a great laugh to dress Alice up like a boy and see how long it takes their choir master to notice that he (she) is in the choir.  Alice (now known as “Pup”) realizes that this is the perfect opportunity to disguise her identity and hide from her father’s assassins, who might be after her next.   But as she gets comfortable in the choir school with the boys–and even begins to develop a friendship with the cantankerous organist who seems to get along with no one else–the assassins get closer and closer to discovering her whereabouts.

This book is an old favorite of mine, with a great blend of mystery/intrigue and schoolyard shenanigans, and of course the classic “girl-disguised-as-a-boy-so-she-can-do-things-she-wasn’t-allowed-to-do-in-the-olden-days” plotline.  And as someone who sings and plays piano myself, I greatly appreciate the music in this book!   (Also, Master Kenton, the organist, is a great character and I really want to be his friend.)   A Murder For Her Majesty is targeted for older elementary readers.

If you like A Murder for Her Majesty, you might also enjoy The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi.

THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Stewart

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Reynie Muldoon is incredibly gifted at solving puzzles and logic games. Kate Weatherall is incredibly resourceful with the items she carries around in her beloved bucket; she can create almost anything. Sticky Washington can read at lightning speed and remembers everything he has ever read, heard, or seen. And Constance Contraire. . .well, Constance is stubborn. And for reasons that will not become clear until the very end of the book, Mr. Benedict insists that she is far more brilliant than the other children realize.

Mr. Benedict gathers this group of brilliant children together to form a team of secret agents who will infiltrate an institution for gifted children that is really a front for a madman’s secret plans for world domination. Although the implications of the madman’s plot are quite dark, the brain teasers and vibrant characters keep the tone of the book light.  The book is intended for a 4th-6th grade audience, but anyone who loves puzzles and codes and a bit of science fiction and mystery will enjoy it.  The Mysterious Benedict Society is the first in a trilogy, followed by The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma.